Focused on helping everyone get through the economic downturn

9th January 2009 at 00:00
The recession, pay, professional development and the looming structural upheaval for further education promise to make 2009 a testing year. FE Focus invited eight key organisations to share their plans, hopes and fears

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges

- Your biggest challenge?

Supporting and enabling colleges to respond to the economic downturn, helping them reassert their role at the centre of their communities and ensuring that the critical contribution colleges make is sustained and promoted through the machinery of government changes.

- Biggest risk?

Any incoherence in the implementation of government policy at an exceptionally busy time and in the face of an economic downturn. If it is not managed successfully we will not be able to respond effectively, nor continue to do our long-term job well.

- Your measure of success?

If I'm still in a job . and the AoC's increased feedback and interaction with members continues to tell us that we are taking the right paths.

At a time of such rapid change, it is essential that we remain in touch with our members. Information is the tool that allows us to speak clearly and persuasively on behalf of colleges, their students and staff.

Peter Pendle, chief executive and general secretary of the Association of College Managers

- Your biggest challenge?

For the further education sector, the biggest challenge will be responding to the recession to ensure that people have the training and skills to make them competitive in the employment market.

For the Association of College ManagementAssociation of Managers in Education, it will be protecting our members from the impact of the recession on colleges - more mergers, reorganisations and restructurings as colleges try to respond to movements in funding between priorities.

- Biggest risk?

For colleges, that the Government and Learning and Skills Council do not loosen the funding controls sufficiently to allow them to be responsive to meet learners' needs.

For ACMAMiE, that colleges will take short-term actions rather than focusing on the longer term strategic direction, damaging quality of learning provision and placing more pressure and stress on college leaders and managers.

- Your measure of success?

We will ensure success by continuing to do what we do well: putting the needs of learners first and by striving to provide high quality, member- focused services.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union

- Your biggest challenge?

The UCU will be ensuring that we continue to increase the numbers of further education colleges who pay the national salary scales agreed four years ago and that we continue to make progress on closing the pay gap with schoolteachers. In the middle of January we will have the ballot result from 11 colleges who still have not paid up, and if no progress has been made and members vote for it, strike action is likely at the end of the month.

- Biggest risk?

The risks are that employers and the Association of Colleges will continue to place a low priority on implementing national settlements.

Outside of pay, there are huge challenges for the sector as we struggle with recession. We have concerns that there may not be enough flexibilities to programmes such as Train to Gain to ensure that colleges can respond to the wide range of needs that adults will have. The Government needs to support the sector.

- Your measure of success?

Increased numbers of adults on learning programmes is one way of measuring success, but we also need to ensure that learners have access to the courses that meet their specific training needs.

Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers

- Your biggest challenge?

The Government is hoping that many of the employment and skills providers that make up the Association of Learning Providers' membership will be at the top of their game during 2009 in helping people to find work after losing jobs in the downturn.

The close links that work-based learning providers have with local employers make our members ideally placed to identify available vacancies and provide candidates with the right skills to fill them.

- Biggest risk?

With local authorities assuming responsibility for 14-19 education provision, including commissioning apprenticeships, the association's biggest challenge is to ensure that independent providers are visible on councils' radar when it comes to vocational learning. Work is well under way to achieve this but we don't underestimate the challenge when some of our members will move from dealing with nine commissioning agencies - in the form of the regional learning and skills councils - to anything up to 100 local authorities.

- Your measure of success?

A busy membership helping thousands of employers and individual learners to get through the recession.

Roger McClure, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service

- Your biggest challenge?

Our challenge is to demonstrate to the sector that the LSIS is more than just a merger of two successful organisations, namely the Centre for Excellence in Leadership and the Quality Improvement Agency. It has been established with the aim of being a catalyst for improvement in achievement across the whole FE system, to work with learning providers and be uniquely sector directed, sector governed, sector adapting and sector responsive.

- Biggest risk?

In demonstrating the new LSIS, our greatest risks are in managing and adapting existing national programmes of delivery to ensure they reflect the new responsiveness and sector direction and also the challenging funding and economic environments. We will phase this work carefully to ensure continuity of support for the sector, while demonstrating the shift in direction.

- Your measure of success?

By the nature and extent of the sector's response to the six draft principles of the new national improvement strategy and our proposals for our first corporate plan; and our commitment to working with the sector and evaluating and responding to the impact of all that we do together.

Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning

- Your biggest challenge?

The Institute for Learning's challenge for 2009 is to deliver three priorities for our 175,000 members: more status for FE and skills teachers, trainers and assessors; increased voice, so that practitioners can influence policy; and a range of distinctive benefits and services that members value in order to serve learners.

- Biggest risk?

Some view IfL as a quango created by the Government. We are, in fact, an independent body, led by members and governed by an elected council. Whether or not we agree about a specific issue, we will speak our mind. 2009 marks a move from some members feeling compelled to join, to being proud of belonging to their professional body.

- Your measure of success?

Our five-year strategic plan, to be published in February, describes what success will feel like for our members and sets challenging targets to measure our progress on professional status, continuing professional development, the use of the REfLECT online learning space (http:reflect.ifl.ac.uk), membership, and member engagement and satisfaction.

IfL will also celebrate its seventh anniversary.

David Hunter, chief executive of Lifelong Learning UK

- Your biggest challenge?

Having completed the reform of standards and qualifications, we are seeking to develop a strong, co-ordinated approach to planning for the future FE workforce.

This is particularly important for us, working in the context of meeting the skills needs of UK plc in an economic downturn.

We are also seeking to support recruitment by bringing fresh talent into the workforce and updating the professional skills of FE staff through the Catalyst programme.

- Biggest risk?

There will be considerable restraints on funding. We will have to ensure every penny is well spent on making both the FE and the wider lifelong learning workforce as effective as possible in helping individuals and businesses achieve their learning and skills goals. This is an essential part of the strategic response to these challenging economic conditions.

- Your measure of success?

Along with our colleagues in government - primarily the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families - and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, we have rigorous quality standards for our work. In practice this means we go the extra mile to ensure the quality of our work, knowing that ultimately means better learning outcomes and, therefore, better results for UK plc.

Mark Haysom, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council

- Your biggest challenge?

To work through the current economic climate to support employers, learners and further education providers to ensure all are better placed to survive the downturn and take advantage of opportunities when the economy recovers. We know that the businesses that engage with FE and continue to train their staff will be much better placed to survive, and the FE providers who thrive will be those who engage with their local businesses.

- Biggest risk?

Next year, 2010, will see the creation of two organisations: the Young People's Learning Agency and the Skills Funding Agency. While we will work closely with the Department for Innovation Universities and Skills, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and local authorities to manage the transition, we must also ensure that the Learning and Skills Council and further education sector staff understand the changes and know how the new system will work.

- Your measure of success?

As any other public body, we have public service agreement (PSA) targets we work towards, but increasingly our success and that of the FE sector will be judged by how well we respond to the needs of employers and learners in challenging times. We have already hit every target we have ever been set and have achieved some fantastic results, but we need to maintain this success.

This year will see the LSC continue to focus on helping businesses improve their productivity and staff expertise, and learners improve their skills and knowledge.

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